I've been doing some research about 'the cost of teenage parenthood' for an evaluation at work (I bet they're so glad they  asked me to do this!). Depending on which report you read 'costs' vary from about £1,000 to £197,000 per teenage parent! That seems like a pretty big margin indicating that perhaps people aren't really sure what they're measuring!

Delve deeper into reports and outcomes (such as income, qualifications etc) for 'teenage parents' will often be compared to those who have children over 23. Because this is the age where it makes a difference. Well of course it bloody does. People who defer pregnancy till after 23 often have different priorities to those who don't. Most of my friends are childless in their 30's but if I walked round the corner from my house most mums would be in their early / mid 20's. Do we really want to say that one group should be discouraged and other other group admired, or 'replicated' as the ideal model?  Can we really take a whole way of life (e.g. those that don't go straight to uni at 18 and spend years trying to climb the flimsy career ladder) and say that their outcomes are 'poor', and that they really should change? Women have been having babies before they reach 23 for a pretty long time. They may generally earn less than career chasers but this shouldn't make it a 'problem'. When did simply not being middle-class become defined as a social problem to be fixed?

This attitude seems be reflected in how policy talks about reducing the cost of Teenage Parenthood; Regardless of the context, the capabilities, the family support, 'teenage parents need help'. They need to be 'taught' how to be parents. They need to be taught how to eat healthy, stop smoking, manage money, sleep 'safely', etc. Even though we don't know what causes cot death, young parents are told they have an increased risk because they are young. Targets to get young parents into EET ignore whether this is actually the right thing for all new mums. Young parents are taught that they should be more like 'middle-class' parents, without considering the complexity of their lives. They are often talked about like vulnerable, incompetent children. They can only achieve if they are 'supported' to achieve. Nothing can be done on their own. Teenage parenthood, therefore, is pretty expensive!

Some of the former teenage parents I know are now teachers, chief execs of charities, writers, midwives, etc. They got there by relying on themselves, being resourceful, resilient and working out what their skills were and how to use them.  They are also, most importantly, excellent parents. They got there by listening to their own instincts.

I know that support for young parents is important. It's important that colleges let them study, that health visitors talk to them with respect, that information isn't hidden, that they are given a voice. But when a young woman becomes a parent she must be treated as a PARENT, not a child. It does not help young mums or their children to take away any sense of responsibility, or confidence in their own ability, to undermine their status as a parent and replace it with 'victim' or 'problem'. 

There is a big difference between supporting and 'trying to change' someone. Young parents already want the best for their children - they don't need to be persuaded to be different! Ask young parents what they want and they will tell you. They are not fighting for 'lessons' in how to be better parents. They just want to be treated with a bit of respect.  But as long as young parents themselves continue to be excluded from policy making and conferences then assumptions will continue to be made about what is 'right for them' by people who have no idea what its like to be a young parent.

So what is the 'cost' of teenage parenthood?  I guess it's however much you want to throw at it, and then of course the reasoning behind your aim....

(image taken from postcards put together by young mums: 'Different Age. Same Situation.' and 'Age doesn't matter, Our chidren do')